What to Major In at College to Get Your Music Industry Dream Job: Part 2
Last month we kicked off a two-part blog series on what to major in during college to land your music industry dream job. As mentioned before, the path from college to career isn’t as cut-and-dried in the music industry as it is in say, law or medicine. You want to be a Doctor? You study biology, or you go pre-med for your undergraduate degree. You want to be a Booking Agent? Well…the path gets a little more confusing.
In this article we’ll be delving, once again, into the music-related degree programs that will best set you up to nab an entry-level position in the music industry, focusing on some of the careers most searched for and most requested on the website. For careers where hands-on experience is paramount to your educational background, we’ll also briefly discuss how to start building a resume while you’re still in school.
Fortunately, for those of you hoping to become Music Therapists, the trajectory is clear: get your bachelor’s degree in Music Therapy, put in your 1,200 hours of clinical training by completing an internship and conducting fieldwork, and take the certification exam conducted by the Certification Board for Music Therapists, Inc. A Music Therapy bachelor’s program will focus on providing students with foundations in musical, clinical and music therapy practices and principles, including music theory, composition, performance skills, conducting, human development, psychology, and therapy.
There are seventy colleges/universities in the US with American Music Therapy Association-approved programs, but if you’re not able to attend one of these schools, you do have options. You can major in a related field (psychology, education, or music) and pursue an equivalency program in Music Therapy at an AMTA–approved university while getting your grad degree. This allows you to take required music therapy coursework while simultaneously getting an advanced degree so you don’t have to get a second baccalaureate degree. (A master’s or doctoral degree is not necessary to work as a Music Therapist, but it can expand research and employment opportunities.)
There’s no college degree program guaranteed to land you a job as a Booking Agent, but studying Music Management or Arts Administration can put you on the right track and open up opportunities for networking and internships. In these programs, you’ll learn to apply business administration skills to artistic pursuits, with coursework covering marketing, leadership, business practices, and intellectual copyright law. These programs usually require (or at least provide access to) internships, so see if you can intern or apply for an entry-level position in the mailroom at a booking agency (which is how a lot of people start out).
When you’re getting close to graduation, look into agency training programs for college grads. The pay is low, the hours are long, and the competition for the open positions is very high—so make sure your resume and degree are on point. Agencies strongly prefer their Interns and trainees to already have experience in the music industry, so while you’re still in school, load up on the music business extracurriculars and find a degree program focused on industry skills. A four-year degree is required for many training programs—especially at the heavy-hitters like UTA, whose website mentions they’re also interested in potential trainees who hold business, law or other graduate degrees.
Only a limited number of undergraduate Conducting or Performance—Conducting programs exist in the US, but bachelor’s programs in Performance, Music Theory, Piano Accompaniment, or Music Education can also help lay the foundation. Conducting is an ultra-competitive field, where who you know really matters—so it’s up to you to pursue the contacts and practical experience outside the classroom to help yourself progress further. Take lessons with working Conductors in your area to hone your skills and set yourself up for graduate level studies.
Master’s or doctoral programs in Conducting will expand your career opportunities, simply because you’ll meet more people and become more immersed in your craft. At this level, you’ll choose an emphasis in Instrumental or Choral Conducting, with additional coursework dedicated to performance, reading scores, music history, education, and theory.
Getting hands-on experience as an Intern or Studio Assistant is the best route for becoming a Recording Engineer; college isn’t a necessity if you can learn on-the-job from working Engineers. At the same time, it’s a lot easier to get an internship if you’re already attending an engineering or production degree program with existing contacts in the recording industry, and if you’re well-versed in recording software and analog techniques you’ll be much more hirable. This is one of those rare fields of study where it doesn’t really matter what level of degree you obtain, as long as you get plenty of real-world experience; an AA in Audio Engineering is just as valid as a BA in Recording Arts, Music Technology or Music Production and Engineering. It’s up to you to choose a program and degree level that will teach you what you want to learn and give you the most opportunities to gain work experience. The coursework you take will vary depending on the length of your program and where you study, but in general you’ll study production, post-production, editing, live and studio recording, music theory and music performance.
A degree in English, Communications or Journalism will help up-and-coming Music Journalists refine their grammar skills and personal voice through writing, editing and media studies coursework. As is often the case, landing a job as a Music Journalist depends more on your real world experience than on your degree—so find as many writing and editing opportunities on your campus as possible, whether it’s at your school newspaper or the English department’s literary journal. Start your own blog, keep an eye out for music websites looking for volunteer writers, or submit story proposals to the Editors of blogs or print publications you like. Be sure to have your writing portfolio available online so they can easily check out your work.
Do you want to travel the world as a Cruise Ship Musician or lead an orchestra as a Section Leader? The type of training you need to become a working musician will depend on what kind of musician you aspire to be. You don’t need a college degree to become a drummer in a rock band, for example, but let’s just say it wouldn’t necessarily hurt. Why? Over the four years you spend in a Music Performance or Professional Music program, you’ll be able to devote yourself almost exclusively to honing your musical skills, going in-depth into the more challenging aspects of music like composition and theory, and most of all, you’ll make connections to other people with similar interests. As a music major, you’ll choose an instrument to focus on while attending performance and recital classes and playing in student ensembles. This is especially important for musicians because having a large network of your fellow artists will give you greater access to more job opportunities–whether it’s as a Session Musician on an acquaintance’s new album or as the opening act on a musical mentor’s US tour.
However, if you’re a classical musician hoping to become a Section Member, the educational stakes are a bit higher. You’ll need at least a BA, if not a master’s or doctoral degree in Music Performance. In college, you’ll refine and expand your skill set, making sure you’re in the loop when it comes to auditions for major orchestras since you’ll be learning from faculty members who (hopefully) have connections to these groups themselves.
To become a Stage Manager, whether for an orchestra or a touring artist, seek out a BA or BFA in Theatre Production, Technical Production or Stage Management. You’ll have coursework related to theatre skills (sometimes including acting, theatre history, or costume design), but you’ll also learn about set design, lighting design, AutoCAD, stage engineering, and show production. This is, yet again, one of those positions which require hands-on experience before anyone will even think of giving you a job, so look for extracurricular opportunities with your school’s orchestra or theatre company. Once you’ve built up some work history, look into apprenticeships with local Stagehands.
The road to becoming an A&R Coordinator (and eventually, an A&R Director) isn’t a straightforward one. There’s no set trajectory for A&R employees; in fact, it’s a position many professionals describe themselves as “falling into.” The one thing A&R people all have in common is extensive music industry experience, knowledge of and connection to musical artists, and serious hustle. If you’re planning to attend college, a good way to position yourself to get closer to the industry—and in turn, the world of A&R—is to find an undergraduate Music Business or Music Business Management program, start building your network, and get involved in as many different aspects of the live and recorded music industries as you can. Attending an MA Music Business program can give you access to an expanded circle of connections, especially if you attend a program in a city where major labels are based, such as New York, Nashville, or Los Angeles. As mentioned earlier, Music Business degree programs focus heavily on internships, so see if you can find an opening in the A&R department. Expect your academic curriculum to include courses in intellectual copyright issues, organizational management, business issues, and marketing.
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